The thirty hour mark rolled past my eyes this morning, swiftly sending me onto the finale of Chapter Ten. With disc two far behind me, I felt it was appropriate to give another update on my time spent with Final Fantasy XIII.
Square Enix had previously fooled me into believing that Final Fantasy XIII was an RPG ‘light’, removing a lot of the traditional customisation and difficulty options that older gamers had grown used to. The use of an auto-attack command personifies this perfectly. But then the band of heroes slowly come together and Squeenix decides to rip the carpet of ease from under your feet. The bosses suddenly become grippingly tough and require the use of multiple paradigm styles. For example, I had to retry the battle with Barthandelus numerous times and level up for a good couple of hours on the Palamecia. The player is suddenly given the choice of any battle team and evolving characters in any job class.
It may have taken over twenty hours, but the JRPG has finally hit the tempo and spirit of one of my favourite games in the series, Final Fantasy X (mostly due to the similarities with the crystarium and sphere grid). I think Square Enix have been very clever, slowly easing casual players into the ‘hardcore’ mould of most Final Fantasy titles, whilst relying on veterans to simply go with the flow. By disc three, they’ve successfully pleased both parties, including me.
The plot has been somewhat slow, relying on the immediate ‘fight or flight’ dilemma to deliver the biggest set pieces. There have been noticeable improvements though, including the revelations of Vanille’s past and the motives of the fal’cie. Hope and Vanille were my least favourite characters in part one, but have finally developed into what I can believe are normal human beings. There haven’t been many genuine tear jerking moments, but the reunion between Sazh and his child brought me pretty close.
Environments have maintained the impeccable standard set out in Chapter One, consistently surprising me with their versatility and detail. The sky views on board the Palamecia look exceptionally believable. I’ve also noticed that they’re slowly becoming more expansive, perhaps hinting at the open world of Gran Pulse which I’m just about to enter. Players have ranted persistently that Gran Pulse is the pay off for playing through Final Fantasy XIII, so it’ll be interesting to see whether it lives up to my high expectations.
The combat hasn’t changed all that much, but mastering it has become a necessity rather than a choice. I used to hate using Snow as a Sentinel, watching him stand like a buffoon and protect Hope while he whines from the corner of my screen. However, effectively watching him block and counter the toughest attacks of Cid Raines, whilst at the same time utilising Fang’s Saboteur abilities to debuff him, is simply beautiful. The active time battle system works incredibly well because you can see plans unfold in real time, rather than having to wait for a few turns just to see if your plan is working. It gives the player a sense of true leadership and strategy, flipping between offence and defence manoeuvres on the fly. Choose incorrectly and you will be severely punished. Also, the inclusion of a retry option when you’re defeated in battle (how long has it taken them to finally include it?!) encourages experimentation. The boss battles are long, challenging and epic in scale. I’m hooked.
I’ve enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy XIII so far. It’s a long way away from being perfect, but I commend Square Enix for taking the next step forward in the JRPG genre. The turn based battle system is outdated and needs a replacement; a future rendition of the ATB gauge maybe the replacement players are looking for. We need far more exploration, but the beautiful landscapes on show in Final Fantasy XIII are the new technical benchmark for what should be possible. The cut scenes are gorgeous, but only time will tell if the final act in the plot makes it all pay off.
If you’re into the RPG genre at all, I feel you need to play this game just to have an opinion on it. It’s been interesting for me to try and formulate my own ideas through these quick blog posts and I hope it’s sparked a few different discussions. I’ll try and upload a final part soon!